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Namie Amuro - Princess of J-POP

Prepared by W. Dire Wolff
Updated Feb 2001

Looking back at Japanese Pop Music (J-POP) in the 1990's, it is impossible to overlook the influence of Namie Amuro. J-POP is the popular hit music that plays on Japan's top 40 radio stations and dominates the top ten of the Japanese charts. Similar to trends in America and England, pop music in Japan dominates the commercial music channels, yet fails to hold the interest of more serious or underground music listeners. Serious music lovers often find, the showmanship and hype of the pop music artists is not backed up by musical depth or artistic sincerity. Namie Amuro, in the first seven years of her career, demonstrated exceptional talent as a singer, dancer, and stage performer. In the year 2000, this young singer is now only 23 years old, and still has a long career waiting for her to further develop the face of Japanese popular music.

Namie Amuro is not only an accomplished singer, she has mastered the art of stage performance. Her years of training in dance is evident in her live performances and videos. Most important, she captures the hearts of her audience by the graceful animation of her stage personality. On stage, Namie understands how to use the unique qualities of the acoustical sound of each performance hall to maximize the presentation of her vocal arrangements. Through the choreographic routines of her dance, she creates a complete artistic presentation of her musical material. Her successful musical recording career has been accented by her continued public presence and touring. By virtue of her talents, Namie Amuro has been the most notable Japanese singer to emerge from J-POP music culture.

On stage and in her public interviews, she displays an almost awkward, shy, and somewhat self conscious personality. While watching her sing, the audience can see her searching for the right tonal qualities, as she strives to get the feel of the audience and the acoustics of the room. Yet this is backed up by the presence of a thoughtful artist that understands the need to strive for perfection in each performance. While the audience is taken in by her shy personality, she overwhelms them with her mastery of the art of her singing and the execution of her dance routines. It's a winning formula that seems natural to Amuro. Namie Amuro has won the hearts of many of the fans that have come to know her music.

Namie Amuro was born on September 20, 1977, on the island of Okinawa, in Naha City, Japan. While in the sixth grade, Amuro visited an actor's training school, "Okinawa Actors' School". Namie had taken an interest in the showbiz industry after watching a young star, Hayasaka Yoshie, perform. Hayasaka Yoshie was the first popular female talent to emerge from the Okinawa Actors' School. Although Amuro was with other members of her school, it was Namie that stood out from the other classmates, and she was encouraged to begin training as a singer and dancer. From that time at the age of 12 years old, Namie began to take her training as a singer and dancer in earnest. Whenever school performances or amateur shows allowed, Namie Amuro took the stage and began to make it her home.

By the time Namie was 15 years old, she had become fast friends with four of her classmates that were also interested in singing and dance. Together with her classmates Ameku Minako (Mina), Takushi Nanako (Nana), Aragaki Hisako and Makino Anna, Namie formed a musical group they called the "Super Monkeys". The teenage girls were signed that year by the Toshiba EMI recording label and they released their first single "Mr. USA". A year later, at only 16 years old, along with the other members of the Super Monkeys, Namie moved from her home in Okinawa to the busy city of Tokyo. The Super Monkeys was a pop band that revolved around their dance routines. Due to their young age, they were not taken very seriously in those early years. Yet, the band found success in performing and recording within the fast paced musical industry culture of Tokyo.

As the "Super Monkeys" began to make a bigger name for themselves in Tokyo, it became more apparent that Namie's talent and stage presence was a marketable commodity. Ameku Minako left the group to pursue a position as a dance instructor, and the remaining girls changed their name to "Super Monkey's 4". They then released their next single, "Dancing Junk" and shortly thereafter Aragaki Hisako left the band. To fill the vacant positions they were joined by two new members, Ritsuko Matsuda (Lina) and Reina Miyauchi (Reina). At the urging of their agents, Namie took a higher profile in the musical group and in 1994 the band was renamed, "Namie Amuro with the Super Monkeys". The band's name change was noted on the release of their fourth single titled "Paradise Train".

The stage was now set for Namie to receive greater notice, and when the Super Monkeys released their fifth single, "Try Me", at the beginning of 1995, everything began to happen. "Try Me" climbed in the J-POP charts and set new sales standards with gross sales reaching over 750,000 copies. "Try Me" sales was more than all of their previous singles combined. The Super Monkeys were receiving good reviews in the J-POP press and they began reaching a wider audience. Their coming into public interest was in part because they were finally reaching an age where more people could take them seriously. As the girls matured, they slowly moved away from their snappy pop roots and took a greater influence from the increasing popularity of modern techno music. Later in the spring of 1995, at the age of 18 years old, Namie Amuro recorded her last single with her friends, the Super Monkeys. By now the group was simply known as "Namie Amuro" for their final single release of "Taiyo no Season" and "Stop the music" by Toshiba EMI.

After Namie left the Super Monkeys, the remaining members of the group launched a successful career without Amuro under the name of "MAX". The band was named after their new producer Matsura "Max" Masato. Masato took the remaining Super Monkeys to a new recording label of "Avex Trax" and produced a new CD under the band's new name. In the meantime, Matsura "Max" Masato, produced Namie Amuro's first solo album length CD, "Dance Tracks Vol 1", with the group MAX appearing as footnotes in the liner notes. The album featured remixes of the Super Monkeys trademark hits. "Dance Tracks Vol 1" launched Namie's solo career by selling over two million copies. Dance Tracks laid a hyper techno beat under a cascade of swirling midi effects, while Namie, singing in her native Japanese, laid the vocal tracks on top of Max's mix. The CD also experimented with more soulful and Latin influences in the production of some of the album's material. This was the end of Amuro's career with the Toshiba EMI recording label.

During her career with Toshiba EMI, Namie was befriended by the accomplished Japanese producer Tetsuya Komuro (TK). Komuro influenced Amuro to begin a solo career with the same recording label that "MAX" had signed with, "Avex Trax". TK had already made a name for himself as a successful producer. He had created a family of artists under his direction that now includes other J-POP musical acts such as Kahara Tomomi, Hitomi, Suzuki Ami, Ring, DOS, as well as his own band, "Globe". Komuro brought a new level of professionalism to the 19 year old Amuro's musical presentation. Together they started working in the studio to release four separate singles. In October 1995 Namie released "Body Feels Exit" selling over 135 million copies. The success of this single was followed in December 1995, with the release of a song created for a popular television series, "The Chef", titled "Chase The Chance". Then in March 1996 she released "Don't Wanna Cry". Later in June, Namie released "Your Are My Sunshine". Each of these four singles sold over one million copies. In this way, the experienced producer set the ground work for a smashing success of the first Namie Amuro album that would be released without the influence of the Super Monkeys. TK had carefully created some distance from previous associations with Amuro's early career, while building interest in her ever expanding newer fan base.


In July 1996, Tetsuya released the first true solo Namie Amuro album, "Sweet 19 Blues". The album, which featured vocal arrangements of club dance music and slower rock ballads, climbed straight to the top of the Japanese J-POP charts. Namie was coming of age and with the help of TK's production techniques , Sweet 19 Blues, had a more mature and refined sound. The dance album moved freely through diverse musical styles that included hints of R&B, Techno Dance Music, love songs, and a touch of Hip-Hop. Album sales exceeded 3.7 million copies. Namie, at only 19 years of age, was a seasoned performer and recording artist. She had already paid her dues, and was creating her own public personage as a pop artist. Her own talent and charm was reinforced by her association with Komuro. The critics were kind to her in their reviews, and Namie took center stage in the Japanese Pop Culture. Further promotion for the album was fueled by Vogue style fashion photos being released to the press. In addition, TK had ensured that a state of the art Web Site was released under the domain of www.amuro.com. The production and promotion of "Sweet 19 Blues" was almost perfectly executed. At the end of 1996, Namie Amuro became youngest artist to win the Japan Records Committee's Best Artist Prize Award with sales totals for CDs climbing over a total of 10 million copies in a single year.

The Amuro fashion had caught on with teenage Japanese girls. Like in Madonna's early career, Namie's fans imitated her fashion and hair style. Her trademark look started as shoulder length bleached brown hair, mini skirts or hot pants, and tall, black, go go boots. Girls in Tokyo's Shibuya, could be seen sporting their Amuro "wanna be" fashion. Namie didn't cling to her initial fashion statements, and began to redefine her public image. To the dismay of her "wanna be" fans, Namie cut her hair short and opted for more causal and fashionable clothing styles in her photo shoots.

The Amuro/Komuro team didn't let their success of the Sweet 19 Blues album grow cold, and immediately began releasing a string of remixed singles from the album. Press releases and fashion photos continued to provide fodder for the Japanese media machine. Together they released her single "Can You Celebrate?", in February 1997, gross sales of the single reached over 1.5 million in only five days. As interest in the young star continued to grow, she launched a successful concert tour in the spring of 1997. Her own tour was followed by her performance with the "TK Pan-Pacific Tour 97". This tour featured shared billing with the rest of the TK family of recording artists, and together they toured several Asian countries. During this tour, it became apparent that Namie's fame had reached outside her native country of Japan, and beyond the influence of Komuro's production. The tour headlined by Tetsuya Komuro's own band, "Globe" received international attention when gross ticket sales for a single concert in Taipei, Taiwan hit a total of $2,770,072 US dollars. This was even greater sales than larger name acts, such as Ireland's U2 sold. U2 total ticket sales at the same venue was almost $1 million less than the TK Show. The summer of 1997 demonstrated that the 20 year old Namie Amuro was truly an internationally acclaimed pop star.

In between breaks from her grueling touring schedule and other public performances, Namie had managed to record her second album with TK, "Concentration 20". This new album was released in July 1997. The album featured a much denser mix than some of her earlier projects. It followed the same basic R&B, Techno Dance Music, love songs, and Hip-Hop of Sweet 19 Blues; but it also featured rock guitar work mixed in the driving beat of the dance grooves. The album achieved some success, but the follow through promotion of the project was cut short soon after the album's release.

In October 1997, Amuro was married to Masaharu Maruyama (nown as Sam), from the Japanese musical group TRF. Namie announced her marriage on a special television broadcast on the Japanese TV networks. Following the news of her marriage to Sam, it was soon learned that Namie was pregnant and the happy couple would be proud parents in the spring of 1998. With the announcements of her personal situation, came further news that Amuro would take a one year break from her musical career. On May 19th of 1998, Namie gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and they named him Haruto. The Japanese meaning of the name Haruto is derived from two kanji characters meaning "Warm " and "Big". The entire episode of the marriage and then the birth of their child captivated the Japanese media. Although Namie took a break beginning in January of 1998, her career continued to move forward.

Before taking her leave, Namie took part in the "TK Presents GROOVE MUSEUM" concerts in China, during November 1997. A special CD Remix version of the song "Can you Celebrate?" was released on Christmas Day 1997, in honor of the couple's wedding and the expectation of their baby. For the second year in a row, Namie won the Japan Records Committee's Best Artist Prize Award for highest sales totals of any artist in 1997. In addition "Can You Celebrate?" won the 39th Annual Japan Record Awards Grand Prize. After performing in the 48th Kouhaku singing contest, Amuro began her one year leave of absence starting on January 1, 1998. Following the announcement of her one year leave, Namie released a new album titled "181920". This was a best hits album of her twelve most successful singles from the time when she was 18, 19, and 20 years old. Meanwhile a series of concert and MTV videos were prepared and released for television airplay and consumer purchase in 1998.

As promised Namie Amuro returned to her music career on December 31, 1998, she once again appeared on the popular Japanese variety show, 49th Kouhaku singing contest, with a very moving rendition of "Can you Celebrate?" The performer was almost unable to finish the final lines of the song, as she fell into an emotional outburst of tears. With her voice wavering in the final moments, Namie finished her performance behind a heart warming veil of tears. Slowly, Namie is began to return to her career in Japan's music industry. In 1999, she appeared on additional television performances and released new musical CDs. In December 1998 Namie released a new single "I Have Never Seen", followed by the release of the single "Respect the Power of Love" in March 1999.

The release single "Respect the Power of Love" was met with a serious dark cloud in Namie Amuro's life. Her mother was murdered by her husband's brother at 10:45 am on March 17, 1999 in Okinawa, Japan. This was on the same day as the release of the new single. The attacker, Kenji Taira, then committed suicide by drinking poison.

Namie's mother, Emiko Taira, had been a constant source of strength and encouragement to her over the years. The loss of her mother almost lead to the end of Amuro's musical career. Each song she would sing, reminds her of the loss she has suffered. While mourning in solitude, letters from concerned fans poured in with heart felt sympathy and encouragement. While she read the letters, tears streaming down her face, Namie found the courage and determination to continue onward. She decided to put aside her own loss and strive to continue to bring happiness to her fans, through her music. Namie reached out to thank her fans via the Internet to post special messages on her fan bulletin boards. She could be found checking out her fan sites and even lurking quietly in their chat rooms (much to the disbelief of the webmasters).

Real Audio Video
Clip album thumb nail for Real Player clip; care of http://amuronamie.cjb.net/

After two years of adjusting her family life with her career, Namie stepped back into the full glare of the spotlight on January 1, 2000. The release of her "Genius 2000" set the stage for Amuro's return to performance and touring on an international level. The new CD begins with a new message in the song "Love 2000". The lyrics begin, "Are you ready for System 2000? Imagine all of us living as one; Are you ready for System 2000? In a world that's soon to come!"

At first listen "Genius 2000" does not appear to be a groundbreaking musical statement in itself. Perhaps many of the compositions, vocal arrangements, and production effects are extensions of her earlier works, under Komuro's production. "Genius 2000" is a strong J-POP CD that went straight to the top of the charts in Japan. The CD is peppered with new hints of American Soul, R&B, and Latin music as well. Further listening and exploration into the CD reveals greater western influences in the production of the music. Amuro's management recruited the help of producer "Dallas Austin"; who has worked with artists such as TLC, Madonna, BoyZ II Men, and Michael Jackson. In addition the legendary "Sheila E.", who has worked as a solo artist and a collaborator with Prince, was brought onboard to help with the composition and production of several songs on the CD. Tetsuya Komuro's influence is evident with his usual set of production techniques that make up his formula for solid gold J-Pop.

The CD stands as a statement, that Namie Amuro is out there and still a player. The release of the CD was followed by public appearances, International tour dates, and more television visibility. Meetings with members of the American musical Trio "TLC", serve to fuel rumors of some possible introduction of Namie Amuro into the United States. In particular, "Leavin' for Las Vegas" has a very Western R&B feel that hints of influence by western bands such as "TLC". These inroads into a more western sound stand to point to the exciting possibility that Namie's future music, may be able to make significant changes in the course of J-POP.

The talented Namie Amuro has been the most notable Japanese singer to emerge from the J-POP music culture during the 1990's. In the coming years, the world will see how Amuro decides to build on the great success of her earlier career.

go to AM-GLAM - Amuro Site go to the Globe Site go to Planet TK go to Kahala Site

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